New Orleans has to be one of my favourite places in the whole world and, for me, was one of the most anticipated stops on our tour of the South.
I adore everything about the city, fondly known as ‘the big easy’ by many, or NOLA by locals. I cannot get enough of the sights, smells and sounds of the place; it literally has everything a tourist could want from beautiful architecture, to intriguing history, some of the most mouth-watering food in the world and endless jazz music wafting through the air. Most people now associate New Orleans with hurricane Katrina however, it is so much more than that and I urge anyone to pay the city a visit….I promise you that you will fall in love and that one visit will not be enough!!
On our first night in New Orleans, we were fortunate enough to have the company of some wonderful friends who we knew from our time living in Mississippi. After a few afternoon drinks and a lot of catching up, we decided to meet in the French Quarter for dinner and music. After talking through a few options, we ventured to the Gumbo Shop, situated in the heart of the quarter, on the edge of Jackson Square.
As you will discover by reading my next few posts, New Orleans really is a foodie mecca and specialises in such a large variety of different cuisines and dishes; the flavour of the city is truly unique as it has evidently been influenced by so many different cultures. As NOLA was discovered by French colonists, a French influence on the cuisine is startlingly apparent; indeed, Cajun dishes indigenous to New Orleans are a blend of French and Southern flavours and techniques. Gumbo is a dish most associated with Cajun and Creole food and originated from the area, so it seemed apt to sample some of the city’s finest gumbo on our first night in town.
The Gumbo Shop has held the much envied accolade of ‘best gumbo in New Orleans’ for well over ten years now so it is definitely worth a visit. Do not fear, the popular restaurant is not a tourist trap but is also favoured by locals. Contrary to what you may think, Gumbo Shop doesn’t just sell the dish it is named after, but a wide variety of Creole and Cajun delicacies including jambalaya, red beans and rice and etouffe. There is also a very reasonable three course menu on offer for $24.99 which showcases local dishes. Of course, I could not resist opting for the ‘Chicken Andouille Gumbo – Boneless Chicken, Andouille, okra and seasonings simmered in chicken stock; selected by locals as the best in the city!’
Wondering what on earth gumbo is? Thought you might be as it is not that common here in the UK! Gumbo is a fusion of so many different cuisines that it is almost impossible to uncover its true origins. It is thought that the dish was first made in New Orleans at the beginning of the 18th century, due to the availability of imported goods that were appearing in the port town and the influx of both French settlers and African slaves.
Gumbo is of soup like consistency, almost like a bouillabaisse, with a handful or so of rice thrown in for good measure. There are so many variations of the filling dish however, one thing is certain, it must contain the so-called ‘holy trinity’ of onion, celery and green pepper. These three ingredients are similar to ‘mirepoix’ and demonstrate the French influence on Cajun and Creole cooking as the majority of local dishes start with this base. The secret to the perfect gumbo is in the roux, a thickening method used by cooking a mixture of flour and fat until browned – the darker, the better! Okra, Andouille sausage, chicken and seafood all feature in different gumbo recipes; Creole gumbo tends to contain shellfish whereas Cajun gumbo is darker and meatier. Some recipes contain Andouille, a smoked pork sausage which originates from France but is widely produced in Louisiana.
My gumbo at Gumbo Shop was truly delicious! The roux was dark, the chicken and sausage plentiful and the flavour smokey and slightly spicy. With a salad on the side, I was well and truly stuffed but still wanting more! I would thoroughly recommend a trip to the Gumbo Shop to get a true taste of Cajun and Creole cuisine as they do it oh so well! To get a taste of New Orleans at home, why not order the Gumbo Shop cookbook or watch this space for one of my favourite, albeit not as authentic, gumbo recipes!
After dinner, it was time for a short meander over to Bourbon Street to enjoy some drinks and live jazz….they are what the big easy is famous for after all!! My parents discovered Fritzel’s some ten or so years ago on a visit to New Orleans and have returned upon every visit to the city!
Parts of Bourbon Street certainly are seedy, particularly the ‘upper quarter’ area close to Canal Street which is heaving with strip clubs. Fritzel’s, although situated on the famous street, is in the slightly more refined ‘lower quarter’ and appears more authentic than many of the tourist heavy bars – it is in fact the oldest jazz club in the city! The place certainly has character with old posters and jazz memorabilia covering every inch of the walls; if you are after a plush surroundings in a sophisticated bar you have come to the wrong place but if you wish to find somewhere unique to New Orleans and a lively atmosphere, look no further!
Be warned, the bar is pretty small so to get in on the wonderful jazz action, you need to arrive early to get a decent seat by the stage. If, like us, you are unlucky to get a seat inside, it is possible to relax in the shaded courtyard garden for a while, to escape from the sweltering humidity, and grab a seat inside when one becomes available.
The music at this renowned jazz bar is unbelievable, it truly is the sound of New Orleans! Each musician is ridiculously talented in their own right, the music is so energetic and fast paced it is a wonder how they all keep up! For an insight into the type of jazz played at the bar, check out their website here. Fritzel’s have produced several albums which are available for purchase on iTunes.
An evening at the French Quarter bar is always memorable. On our most recent trip there, a girl from the audience who was in the midst of a pub crawl and busy doing shots with her friends got up with the house band to sing on stage. She had a stunning voice, well suited to traditional style jazz, and performed beautifully which was rather lucky seeing as the band had never met her before…..you really could not tell it was their first time performing together!!!
There tends to be no cover charge in place most of the time at Frtizel’s and the service and atmosphere are terrific! In order to catch a glimpse of the ‘real’ New Orleans jazz scene, be sure to pay Fritzel’s a visit when you are next in town!
Places to visit:
Gumbo Shop, 630 St Peter Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116, (504) 525-1486
- Fritzel’s European Jazz Bar, 733 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116, (504) 586-4800